I've got a story I've been working on for over a year, and while I feel the characters are well developed, there's no solid plot. There's a bunch of arcs strung together. Wondering if that's a bad thing and if I need a concise plot?
I’m going to start by stating something pretty obvious: every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning doesn’t have to be the very beginning of everything and the end doesn’t have to be a happily ever after where everything is right with the world. There can be some questions left for the reader to think about like what the MC’s life will be like after this conflict, but the main conflict should be tied up. Which brings me to the answer, yes, you need a main conflict, but this can be shown in different ways.
Okay, to explain I’m going to talk a bit about Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. If you haven’t read the book I’ll do a very brief summary here so you know what I’m talking about. If you have, skip this paragraph. It’s set in Victorian England and is about a girl named Jane Eyre (I know, shocking) who grows up in the care of her aunt and uncle (until the uncle dies) because she’s an orphan. The aunt is your typical gothic “step-mother” type who cherishes her little monsters and despises Jane. Eventually Jane gets sent off to a boarding school for orphaned girls which is just awful. Jane gets into trouble a few times for refusing to her mouth shut. Things in the school get a bit better (I’m skipping a lot) and she eventually becomes a teacher there but wants to see more of the world so she takes a job as a governess for the ward of the rich Mr. Rochester. Skip ahead again, a lot, and she falls in love with Rochester who loves her back but is technically still married to a crazy woman named Bertha (long story). Knowing they can’t be together, Jane leaves and wanders alone and with nothing for a while until she finds three siblings willing to take her in, who later turn out to be her cousins. She inherits a fortune from an uncle and splits it with the cousins and goes to work at a charity school kind of run by St. John, one of the cousins. St. John asks her to marry him and go with him on a missionary trip to India. She almost accepts, not because she loves him but because that’s the honourable thing to do when traveling with a man, but decides she needs to know what happened to Rochester. Turns out his home was burned to the ground after the crazy woman set a fire and lost her life. Rochester is blind and not so rich anymore but is now a single man so Jane and Rochester get married.
The book is a bildungsroman, or coming of age story about Jane’s life. There isn’t really one plot line that spans the entire book, just long running plots. One in terms of her life with her aunt, one at the orphan school, one with Rochester and the other with St. John. They mix together sometimes since they are significant points of her life that changed her in some way but are not one solid, unified plot in the same way that say, Harry Potter is about fighting the dark forces of Voldemort. BUT it is unified by one important thing. Jane Eyre is about Jane figuring out who she is and what she wants in life, which for the time period is scandalous. She sticks up for herself, even with a job (again, quite rare for a woman) at the orphan school she realizes it isn’t what she wants and goes looking for something else, she refuses to let Rochester treat as anything less than she is, she doesn’t marry St. John even though that’s what would normally be expected of her, and in the end her relationship with Rochester is a fairly equal one. That development in her story from abused little girl to woman trying to find a place, to a woman who has found it is what gives the story a concise beginning, middle, and end rather than the plot itself. As long as your story has something of that sort it should work out. The most important point(s) of the story need to be resolved.
Oh man, I don’t know if any of this ramble is going to make sense to you but hopefully you can understand enough to help you out ;)